Sump Pump vs French Drain: Do I Need Both for Yard Flooding?

(Last Updated On: November 22, 2023)

Many people are confused about exterior outdoor yard systems and interior basement or crawl space systems. When considering the value of a sump pump vs French drain system the best solution depends upon the system’s location.

In a basement location it isn’t a question of “sump pump vs French drain” because you need both. The sump pump is required to lift the water out of the basement to be discharged outside of the house.

However, in a crawl space where the water can flow freely to the outdoors, then choose the French drain system. That is, if the amount of water that needs to be removed is less than the amount the French drain can handle. Otherwise, you will also need a sump pump.

French drain trench with drain tile pipe ready to be placed into the trench.
French drain trench with drain tile pipe ready to be placed into the trench. Notice the water in the trench indicating a high water table.

Outdoor Sump Pump vs French Drain

A French drain uses gravity to function. It can remove water from one location to a lower location. Which could be a dry well, a sump pump, or anyplace the water can be released safely.

Also, along the way, the French drain system could let water percolate into the surrounding earth. Although that is rarely a real option.

So, I French drain can feed collected water to a sump pump in the yard where the pump pushes the water to another location. That might be as simple as pumping water over a short retaining wall into a lake or stream.

Often times the sump pump pushes the water uphill and discharges into the street drainage system.

Do I need A French Drain and A Sump Pump in The Yard?

Not always. Often times a sump basin and pump are placed at the area where the water naturally collects. Then the sump pump removes the collected water to a different location. Typically, that requires an above ground hose or a buried plastic pipe.

Advantages of Sump Pumps vs French Drains

Sump pumps have a number of advantages over French drains. The most obvious and biggest of these is the volume of water they can drain and pump.

Pumps such as Zoeller’s M53 Mighty Mate can drain as much as 43 gallons per hour at a head height of 5 feet. French drains can simply not compete with this!

Below is a Zoeller sump pump kit that can be used in a crawl space or outdoors.

Crawl Space Sump Pump with Kit
  • Country Of Origin: United States
  • Brand Name: Foeller
  • Can Be Giftwrapped
  • Color: Black

Only Activates When Required

Another big advantage that a sump pump has versus a French drain is that it drains actively. As a French drain is passive. You can’t turn up its capacity when there is a heavy flood or storm.

A sump pump will however be activated when the water starts rising. That means that providing the pump is able to drain a bigger volume of water than what is flowing into the pit, your basement won’t flood.

French drains can also only handle small to medium volumes of water over time, but won’t cope with big volumes of water during flash flooding.

However, basement sump pumps can easily handle large volumes of water that flow into a basement.

You will be able to gain a huge amount of pumping power at a moment’s notice by activating the pump as required when the water level starts rising.

Uphill Pumping

The third major benefit that a sump pump has is that it is able to pump water uphill. A French drain will work well when gravity helps it and water flows downhill, but it can’t remove water from a basement that is flooding.

Installation Cost and Time

The final sump pump vs French drain advantage is the installation costs and time. A sump pump can be installed in a few hours by someone handy with a shovel and tools and a professional electrician.

If you are in or near a large city it should be possible to hire a local plumber to install the sump pump for you.

Disadvantages of Sump Pumps vs French Drains

There are some situations where a sump pump is not as good as a French drain.

Passive Draining

A French drain uses passive draining rather than a pump.

The drain lines are in the ground and have a minor slope that uses gravity to drain excess water away.

Water naturally collects and drains over time and there is no need to activate a float switch or motor.

French drain along the exterior house wall to drain water away from the house foundation.
French drain along the exterior house wall to drain water away from the house foundation.

Water is Routed Away from the Home

An outdoor French drain system that has been designed well will route water away from the walls of a basement. Thereby preventing water from draining into the basement.

If a series of drains are positioned such that they empty into a more ideal part of the property or city drainage, water can be collected as it falls and drained away from the building.

No Electrical Connection Required

Most sump pumps need electricity to run. However, there are sump pumps like Zoeller’s 503 that are powered by water. That means they still work if there is no power available due to a big storm.

French drains don’t use electricity but rather gravity. As long as the drain stays unclogged, the water will always flow.

Mechanical Parts Not Required

French drains don’t use any moving mechanical parts. That means mechanical parts won’t break or fail as electrical sump pumps eventually do.

Sump pumps have many moving parts as well as the actual pump that can break easily if a solid piece of debris gets past the filter. They will also be prone to wear and tear over time.

Silent Operation

One of the biggest reasons homeowners often prefer French drains is because they are silent. A sump pump can make a loud humming noise, especially if it is a powerful one.

This will be a big problem if you have thin floors, especially if the sump pump is close to a bedroom. However, you can get sump pump basin covers that will dampen the noise somewhat.

On the other hand, outdoor French drains are totally silent which makes them an excellent choice for light sleepers.

A set of outdoor French drains can also reduce basement sump pump noise.  That is because the French drain will already prevent most of the water from entering the basement. Meaning you only require a smaller and quieter basement sump pump.

Water drainage pipe emptying water from a sump pump into a pond. When considering a sump pump vs French drain system the main consideration is how much water  and how far away must it drain.
This water could be coming from a basement sump pump or from an outdoor French drain. When considering a sump pump vs French drain system the main consideration is; how much water and how far away must it drain.

How to Choose a Sump Pump or French Drain

In this section, we’ll help you select between a French drain and just an electric sump pump. Both options have pros and cons so you need to look at both before you start to dig.

Neither option is necessarily worse or better than the other, but both have advantages and disadvantages.

An electrical sump pump is better suited to situations where high pumping capacity is required on demand. Their upfront and ongoing expenses are higher. However, this is one of the most effective solutions to prevent your yard or basement from flooding.

French drains are best used on large properties with lower water drainage requirements. Also, if there is limited access to electrical power, use a French drain.

Which Is the Better Option?

Homeowners often ask us which option is better:

  1. A French drain only
  2. French drain and a sump pump?
  3. Sump pump only
  4. A sump pump and a French drain?

Although all of these options can be used to drain water, each has their advantages and disadvantages.

Still not sure? We always recommend that you install a French drain and an electric sump pump in a basement. This option is more flexible and offers more draining power.

However, French drains by itself are best used outdoors. Although a sump pump may be required in addition to the outdoor French drain.

You may get in trouble if you install a French drain without calling before you dig. You need to first ensure that it will be okay with close neighbors and the local authorities.

Many legal disputes have arisen due to French drains being installed without consultation.

Flooding a neighbor’s yard or using the wrong type of pipe can be very costly.

Why Do I Need an Exterior Sump Pump and How Does It Work?

Last update on 2024-02-23 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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